Reflections of Reality

You know the good work being done inside the walls of your school, but do your stakeholders know it? Better yet, how would they know it? As a building leader, spend a few moments in the coming days to review your school’s website, social media profile (if applicable) and even your school marquee to see if the story it’s telling is reflective of the reality you see daily? (This is a great practice to start as you begin a new school year.)

As you spend time clicking around, consider how those who are prospective families would interpret what they see in this digital reality. Is it accurate? Can you get a vibe that your school is an engaging place for students to learn? Is the information up-to-date? 

Confirm this for yourself and put structures in place that not only set high expectations from building leadership, but follow up to see that it’s happening and thank those responsible for it. This feedback is vital to those doing the work that you are interested in the story your school is telling and that it is a reflection of reality.

Measuring the Call to Service

By now, you have probably figured out something about me: I like learning about history. I’ve always enjoyed looking back in time to better understand the context surrounding events. The Bible states that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, New International Version). That’s true in public relations, too. For as much as we communicators believe we are doing something no one has ever seen or done before, history tells us that’s not true. We can be inspired by examples from the past! That’s why Modern Retro PR has been such a treasure to me over the first few entries.

As I think about my profession, I believe school public relations is a way for me to serve my community. There are never enough people who serve. From teachers to nurses to those in the military, many times those working to serve others have to take the time to find the next generation of public servants.

The test of the work in these instances is drawing others into service. That’s where evaluation comes in. There is a difference between outputs and outcomes, both of which can be measured. Outputs are the tactics taken to achieve a campaign’s goal, i.e. number of posters printed or clicks to a website. Outcomes should be our bread and butter as public relations practitioners–did we motivate someone to take action? In this week’s Modern Retro PR, find out why measuring your work can help you determine what’s a win.

Retro: Creel Commission

You’ve seen the “I Want YOU” poster many times in your life, but chances are, you may not know how it came to exist. Uncle Sam’s piercing blue eyes, his stern look, and pointed finger called a nation to action in a time of war.

James Montgomery Flagg's illustration

James Montgomery Flagg’s illustration Source: Library of Congress

James Montgomery Flagg’s illustration first appeared in Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly in 1916 as cover art above the caption “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?”.  A year later, it was the centerpiece of a United States Army recruitment poster–the image you’ve seen time and time again.

Flagg’s artwork, along with that of other noted artists of the day, was part of George Creel’s Commission on Public Information (CPI). The sole charge of the CPI was to gain public support for World War I, work that incorporated the use of speechmakers, known as the Four Minute Men, and an  “army of artists” (Creel, 1972, p. 134).  From a public relations standpoint, this marked an early moment in the history of the profession where the trends of the day used patriotism as part of its publicity efforts.

According to Christopher Capozzola’s Uncle Sam Wants You World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen, more than four million posters were printed (2008, p. 4). A huge output considering the era and available technologies!

Even Creel noted the success of an overall strategy featuring posters, such as the iconic one with Uncle Sam in his autobiography, How We Advertised America: “Posters were effective and we used them freely. Care was taken to phrase them tersely and simply” (1972, p. 312).

This is significant when you consider that in this era, not all people could read English. A key factor in developing an effective campaign: know your audience!

Modern: Johnson & Johnson’s Campaign for Nursing’s Future

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a 22-page report outlining a projected shortage of nurses that would only grow in the following two decades. One line stood out:

“If not addressed, and if current trends continue, the shortage is projected to grow to 29 percent by 2020.”

Shortly afterward Johnson & Johnson, maker of first aid products like Band-Aids, launched the Campaign for Nursing’s Future. In the company’s campaign highlights, Johnson & Johnson noted its “leadership position” in addressing the issue:

The Campaign is a multi-year, $50 million national initiative designed to enhance the image of the nursing profession, recruit new nurses and nurse faculty, and help retain nurses currently in the profession.

Using a multi-faceted approach, the health and beauty aid giant implemented strategies jnjto connect with audiences largely grouped as prospective nurses, current nurses, and customers to rebrand a profession . Further, a comprehensive website was developed encouraging each of these audiences to Discover Nursing.

As the campaign evolved and new technologies emerged, the company branched out into social media. The Campaign for Nursing’s Future has a Facebook page, Twitter account,  Pinterest account and a YouTube Channel.

More than five years after this video was first uploaded to YouTube, it has racked up more than a half million views–and that doesn’t begin to count the number of times it’s aired on television.

It’s not enough to simply produce a large number of outputs, especially when clear goals have been established. Converting people to action is what was necessary here to address the deficit of nurses. With videos like this, it’s easy to see why the campaign could be successful. Johnson & Johnson claims:

“Campaign television commercials have successfully motivated more young people to think about nursing as a career option, including 24 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds (Source: 2002 Harris poll).”

Final Thoughts.

In school administration circles, there is the saying: what gets measured, gets treasured. That’s true in PR, too.  In short, how do you know if your work, worked? Rice & Atkin detailed three functions of evaluation in Public Communication Campaigns (2013):

  1. Determine expected impacts and outcomes of a program
  2. Determine why a particular program did or didn’t work
  3. Provide information for planning of future activities

Something that stood out to me as I studied for the Accreditation in Public Relations was the idea that “behavior change is usually considered the ultimate sign of public relations effectiveness” (Study Guide, 2016, p. 24).

In both cases, the behavior sought was a call to service. Regardless of the era in which a campaign was produced, the evidence of a solid and effective campaign should still be visible to this day. Those of us who work in governmental public relations understand the accountability required as part of our work. Creel detailed all of the committee’s work in the Complete report of the chairman of the Committee on public information:


As a for the outcomes of  CPI’s work? “More than 1.3 million men and more than twenty thousand women volunteered to serve in the armed forces abroad.” (Capozzola, 2008, p. 7).

That work shaped the future of America and the outcome of the war. However, the effort to draft enough nurses to care for the nation’s citizens continues today.

A campaign overview published by Johnson & Johnson highlighted the successes of the campaign’s efforts since 2002, including outputs and outcomes. Despite the 32 million pieces of recruitment/retention materials in both English and Spanish and other outputs, the company cites the American Academy of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) in saying the campaign has led “more than 750,000 people into the profession.”

Ensuring the strength and the health of our nation is certainly something to treasure.


Capozzola, C. J. N. (2008). Uncle Sam wants you : World War I and the making of the modern American citizen. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Creel, G. (1972). How we advertised America (International propaganda and communications; International propaganda and communications). New York: Arno Press.

Rice, Ronald E., and Charles K. Atkin, eds. Public Communication Campaigns. 4th ed. N.p.: Sage Publications, 2013. Print.

Study Guide for the Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations.  (2016).

Let’s Talk Turkey!

I love Thanksgiving–always have. In fact, my husband proposed to me kneeling in a heart I drew in the sand with a stick on Thanksgiving Day long ago. It is a memory I treasure. My Thanksgiving Days have been filled with family, food, and laughter over the years–and I wouldn’t change it.

In recent years, there has been a push to start the Christmas holidays as soon as possible. Now, it seems the pendulum is swinging back.

In this week’s Modern Retro PR. we’ll talk turkey (literally!) and see how message placement for two companies is part of the overall strategy to connect with customers over Thanksgiving.

Retro: Butterball’s Turkey Talk Line (1981)
The Thanksgiving scene around family dinners across the nation can be a landmine. Let the turkey be cooked incorrectly, and you’ll become the family joke. The stress is real, especially for those first Thanksgiving dinners the new couple will host.

Enter a brilliant message placement strategy, courtesy of PR firm, Edelman. Before we get to that, the backstory is as tasty as the result.

Butterball brand managers theorized that sales were lagging because people didn’t know how to cook the turkey. Edelman’s plan sought to get to the root of the problem implemented a 1-800 number where someone could answer those frequently asked questions and inject the chef with a bit of confidence.

Six home economists armed with their expertise and a telephone bank would change the


Vintage Butterball Turkey Talk experts take phone calls.

the course of Thanksgiving Day in 1981. Eleven thousand people called in for help. Not only did it boost sales, it solidified expert-status to customers.

“This was a unique approach to building sales for Butterball. It not only raised consumer confidence in the brand, but the talk line itself got media coverage, thus heightening Butterball’s profile.”

The publication Ad Week, even noted the strength in the message placement of the turkey company:

“Butterball’s help line is also shrewd marketing, positioning the brand as the turkey experts in the minds of many home cooks, even those who may have bought a Purdue or Bell & Evans turkey.”

If you find yourself needing some tips during the months of November and December, go ahead and give them a call at 1-800-BUTTERBALL, they’d be happy to help you save your holiday meal.

Modern: Target, Home Goods, & T.J. Maxx Bring Back the Holidays Campaign (2015)
I must confess: I have only participated in one Black Friday event in my life. I didn’t particularly enjoy it but did get a TV at a great price out of the trip. But it seems that the holiday shopping season starts earlier and earlier each year.

My Facebook feed has friends declaring they will leave the dinner table at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day to go shopping. Really?!!? I. Just. Can’t.

Last year, T.J. Maxx (and its subsidiaries which include HomeGoods and Marshall’s) introduced the “Bring Back the Holidays” campaign.

Talk about message placement! The effort “focuses on people, and creates opportunities to bring them together,” according to a news release issued by the campaign. This work was predicated on the results from a 2013 Pew Research Study in which nearly 70 percent of people say they most look forward to time with family. That same study showed that nearly a third of people said they dislike the commercialization of the holiday.

As a result, the three stores will be closed on Thanksgiving Day so that employees can spend time with their own families as opposed to minding the bedlam that is door-buster deals. Consumers are taking note, with many bloggers focused family and parenting issues highlighting the campaign on their own blogs.

Additionally, the effort uses social media to extend the conversation. By using the hashtag #bringbacktheholidays, people can win prizes designed to create special moments for families. For example, 20 people won $2,000 travel gift cards to help them get home for the holidays in 2015.

While there is something to be said for corporate altruism, it is more likely, large companies read the 2014 research from the National Research Federation that highlighted the fact that “the early Black Friday launch has caused costs to rise, while last year saw an 11 percent drop in Black Friday weekend sales.”

The online push of the social media campaign is yielding results. Sentiments like these abound on Twitter:

With more people moving their shopping experience online, what’s one day?

Final Thoughts.
For retailers, a key question to answer will they highlight the value they offer to customers or will they highlight the value of family. It seems that both Butterball and the companies under the T.J. Maxx umbrella have found a way to do that that is consistent with their respective brands.

There are real costs associated with both of these business decisions. Plus, the upside is worth noting too.

“Instead of using it as a way to make money, companies are losing money…and saying that’s okay, that’s okay cause it’s going to help our image and the goodwill that customers have in their minds about us,” said Pete Fader, a marketing professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, in a podcast with Business Insider.

Additionally, the decision netted an increase in media coverage for both companies. As TV stations looked to fill content during a slow news period, they called on the experts from Butterball to offer tips and promoted the names of companies who will be closed on Thanksgiving Day. Prime placement considering the fact that many people are off during the holidays and watching a little more TV than usual.

The bet is that after you’ve had your fill of turkey (and maybe your family), you will be more inclined to patron those companies whose values mirror yours and shop on your time, not theirs.

My wish for each of my readers is to have safe and joyous holiday season! Feel free to share what you are thankful for or your favorite Thanksgiving memory in the comments below. I’ll be doing what I am always doing: eating and enjoying time with family.